Johannesburg - The Blue Bulls stayed in touch with the leaders on the Absa Currie Cup log when they beat the Lions 32-18 at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday night.
The scoreline might suggest that it was an easy win for the defending champions, but two tries apiece and the narrow 16-15 lead at halftime to the Bulls tell the story of a tough, uncompromising match that at times flared up a little.
The Lions were good up front and did their bit in both the lineouts and the scrums. They also turned over a number of the Blue Bulls breakdowns, especially in the first half.
John Mitchell has done wonders with their defence as the Lions again held one of the big guns in the competition to only two tries.
The Lions impressed with good handling behind the scrum and some scintillating runs by their threequarters, and teenager Elton Jantjies at flyhalf had much to do with that in his first start in the Currie Cup competition.
Some poor discipline under pressure by the Lions after halftime gave the Blue Bulls the confidence and the leeway they sought and they took the score to 25-15 courtesy of three penalties by Jacques-Louis Potgieter who eventually scored 27 points, including one of his side's two tries.
The Blue Bulls started off the game with their proven game of driving it up from the rucks but squandered their opportunities with poor ball control and insecure handling. But they were undoubtedly in command and deservedly went up 3-0 after nine minutes through a Jacques-Louis Potgieter penalty.
But then the new-look Lions backline struck with a well-constructed try by wing Deon van Rensburg following some outstanding handling. Jantjies brought nip into the move with a quick pass and another teenager Jaco Taute ran well to off-load at the perfect moment.
They repeated the dose barely two minutes later without the resultant try, but it was clear: these backs can and want to play. They emphasised that three more times in the first half, with the forwards also joining in on two occasions. It is obvious that this Lions side, which combines youth and experience, is moving forward.
The Lions' second try was also a beauty. This time No 8 Warren Whiteley rounded off under the posts after three good off-loads under pressure by forwards. The conversion put them 15-13 to the good five minutes before halftime after the Blue Bulls speedster Gerhard van den Heever had earlier scored a good try following a ruck and good hands by John Mametsa.
It was a little tough on the Lions that they conceded a penalty on the halftime whistle to give the Blue Bulls a narrow and somewhat fortuitous 16-15 lead at the break.
The Blue Bulls came back after halftime and the impression that the Lions would wilt after the break initially seemed to be correct as their discipline and resolve let in two penalties to let the Blue Bulls go ahead to 22-15.
But then the Lions came back again, running from their own quarter. Again it was Jantjies who sparked it and gave them that extra yard with snappy handling. But another ruck penalty took the score to 25-15 before Jantjies pulled one back to make it 25-18 with 24 minutes remaining.
The Lions scrum which had held its own then pushed the unsettled Blue Bulls metres just after the replacement of prop Jaco Engels and Gary Botha with Werner Kruger moving to the loosehead. But the Blue Bulls, still employing the proven and effective but unexciting tactic of cutting inside behind the scrum or driving with their forwards from rucks, started taking control.
It paid dividends when Potgieter went over after a sustained retention of the ball for a good team try, and with his conversion good it was 32-18.
Tries: Deon van Rensburg, Warren Whiteley.
Conversions: Elton Jantjies:
Penalties:: Jantjies (2)
Tries: Gerhard van den Heever, Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
Conversions: Potgieter (2).
Penalties: Potgieter (6)